MADRID (REUTERS, AFP) - Spain reported 2,935 new coronavirus infections on Thursday (Aug 13), the highest number since the country’s lockdown ended and up from 1,690 recorded the previous day, although officials argued the situation remained manageable.
The Madrid region, which failed to report its data the previous day due to technical difficulties, led the tally with 842 new infections in the 24 hours to Thursday, followed by the Basque Country, with 545 cases.
“The number of known cases keeps rising in Spain, but it is a mild rise that allows the implementation of control measures,” health emergency coordinator Fernando Simon told reporters, adding that the localised outbreaks did not amount to a second wave of infections that many expect in the autumn.
He said more than half of the infected people showed no symptoms.
The new data brought the cumulative total to 337,334 cases in the country. The ministry also said 70 people had died over the past seven days, bringing the death toll from the virus to 28,605.
Since lifting one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns around seven weeks ago Spain has struggled to keep a lid on new infections, with average daily cases rising from less than 150 in June to more than 1,500 in the first 12 days of August, and now spiking further.
The resurgence of the virus has dashed Spain’s hopes of saving the tourism season as many countries have issued no-travel advisories or introduced quarantine requirements for travellers from Spain.
Various Spanish regions have reimposed some restrictions and even come up with new ones, such as a ban on smoking in public spaces in Galicia and the Canary Islands.
Spain's Canary Islands said on Thursday it would ban smoking outdoors when social distancing cannot be guaranteed to curb the coronavirus, a day after Galicia took a similar measure.
The smoking ban will come into effect on Friday along with mandatory wearing of face masks in all public spaces, Canaries regional leader Angel Victor Torres said.
The Canary Islands, a tourism hot spot off north-west Africa, had been the only Spanish region where it was not obligatory to use face masks.
Officials in regions including Madrid and Andalusia said they were considering similar smoking restrictions.
"Smoking will not be allowed in open spaces, in places where there are crowds, if there is not sufficient social distance," Mr Torres told a news conference, adding that terraces were included in the restrictions.
Infected smokers could blow droplets carrying the virus when they exhale, he added.
A smoking ban in the north-western region of Galicia, best-known as the destination for pilgrims hiking along the Camino de Santiago, came into force overnight.
The Galician law also forbids smokers from removing masks to smoke in public if it is not possible to maintain a distance of 2m between people, in what is believed to be the first such restriction in Europe.
Galicia and the Canaries are among the least-affected regions of Spain, the country with the highest number of infections in Western Europe.
The Spanish Society of Epidemiology in July called for smoking to be banned in outdoor spaces, arguing there was a risk that infected smokers who are asymptomatic "could release droplets" and "put at risk the rest of the population".
Spain's regions are responsible for healthcare policy, which has led to a patchwork of measures to curb the virus.
The World Health Organisation has said tobacco users could increase the possibility of transmission of the disease since it involves contact of fingers with the lips.
While the smoking ban was applauded by many medical experts, some questioned its effectiveness.
"There is not yet enough solid scientific information to show that in open spaces, tobacco smoke can transmit the disease," Dr Fernando Garcia, an epidemiologist at the Carlos III institute for health, told AFP.
"To take such an extreme measure when there is not enough evidence, I think is a bit disproportionate."